Huge ship blocking Suez Canal partially refloated, more work needed

29.03.2021

A massive container ship blocking Egypt's Suez Canal for nearly a week has been partially refloated, the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) said on Monday, raising hopes the busy waterway will soon be reopened for a huge backlog of ships.

The 400-metre (430-yard) long Ever Given became jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal in high winds early last Tuesday, halting shipping traffic on the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia.

After further dredging and excavation over the weekend, efforts by rescue workers from the SCA and a team from Dutch firm Smit Salvage worked to free the ship using tug boats in the early hours of Monday, two marine and shipping sources said.

The SCA said Ever Given has been straightened in the canal and further tugging operations would resume once the tide rises later on Monday. Marine traffic through the canal will resume once the ship is directed to the Great Lakes area, a wider section of the canal, it added.

At least 369 vessels were waiting to transit the canal, including dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels, SCA Chairman Osama Rabie said.

"The ship's captain is the one responsible for the vessel at all times," Rabie told Egyptian state television on Monday. "It is very possible that by today noon shipping activity would resume, god willing. We will not waste one second."

The SCA has said it can accelerate convoys through the canal once the Ever Given is freed.

"We have movement, which is good news. But I wouldn't say it's a piece of cake now," Peter Berdowski, the CEO of Smit Salvage's parent company Boskalis, told Dutch public radio.

High pressure water would be injected under the bow of the ship to remove sand and clay but if that was unsuccessful, containers might have to be removed from the ship, which would cause a considerable delay, he said.

A source involved in the salvage operation told Reuters on Monday they were re-ballasting the ship and expect that with a favourable tide, cargo will not need to be removed.

"The good news is she's moved. But she is still stuck in the mud. A second large anchor-handling tug will arrive this morning. Hopefully they will be able to pull her free."

The ship's technical manager Bernhard Schulte Ship Management (BSM) did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Video posted on social media appeared to show the ship had swung around, opening space in the canal. Other footage, which could not be immediately verified by Reuters, included cheering and ships' horns sounding in celebration.

Crude oil prices fell after news of progress in refloating the ship, with Brent crude down by $1 per barrel to $63.67. Shares of Taiwan-listed Evergreen Marine Corp - the vessel's lessor - rose 3.3 per cent.

About 15 per cent of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is a key source of foreign currency revenue for Egypt. The current stoppage is costing the canal $14–$15 million a day.

Shipping rates for oil product tankers nearly doubled after the ship became stranded, and the blockage has disrupted global supply chains, threatening costly delays for companies already dealing with COVID-19 restrictions.

Some shippers had decided to reroute their cargoes around the Cape of Good Hope, adding about two weeks to journeys and extra fuel costs.

A note from A.P. Moeller Maersk seen by Reuters said it had so far redirected 15 vessels around the Cape after calculating that the journey would be equal to the current delay of sailing to Suez and queuing. (Reuters)

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